Signpost for 8th February 2015, 5th Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
The Year of Mark, the exciting, breath-taking race through the ministry of Jesus – full of “immediatelys” and “at onces”, incident upon incident, so vivid and believable, giving this Gospel even more than the others what JP Phillips calls “The Ring of Truth”.
What woman hasn’t at least once in her life rolled her eyes and wondered why Simon, or his wife maybe, couldn’t have made the tea? We know the answer only too well and are ashamed of even pretending this cynicism. My relatively new Bible brought this guilt close to home by telling me in its footnotes: In the phrase “she served them” the Greek word for “serve” is the same word used in 1:13 to describe the action of the angels. Hmmm.
Simon’s mother-in-law disappears from the story. Simon’s wife is not even mentioned in the Gospels, but there is a reference to her by Paul a few verses before today’s Epistle reading begins.
Jesus’ withdrawal to the wilderness in the very early hours of the morning is also compelling stuff. We know from the story of the woman with the flow of blood that his healing actions took strength from him, and last evening he had healed not only Simon’s mother-in-law but also whole “cities” of many illnesses. One would think that after such a physically and emotionally exhausting day Jesus deserved at least a lie-in, but no, echoing the Isaiah passage, the perfect man showed us the way to restore strength is time out with God. How we fail to measure up!
Simon and his companions “hunted for him”. It seems the Greek verb is very strong, even carrying a hostile intent, “hunted him down”. Mark doesn’t pull any punches.
The Epistle reading is also very real. When we put the few verses we are given into context we find a very angry Paul writing strong letters – not epistles, not scripture – castigating the Christians in Corinth who, as soon as he left them, set about outdoing the religious and social excesses of the religious communities around them, quarrelling amongst themselves and dividing into factions – “I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollos…” (1:12). Isn’t it delightfully real that he heard about it from “Chloe’s people” (1:11) – another woman, obviously one who can be trusted, who gets a mention, this time a name, and then disappears?
From real to the sublime – Isaiah – “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” (almost as good as the KJV). And, “those that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength…” (verse 31); I heard Brye’s wife Margaret sing that little song so often, so beautifully, back in the 80s at our EFM seminars. I haven’t heard it since. It’s a shame if it has dropped out of our repertoire.